Stenciled American flag pillows from the blog post, "How to Paint Throw Pillows".

How to Paint Throw Pillows

Ready for a simple craft to celebrate the fourth of July? Allow me to show you how easy it is to paint throw pillows!

This project is appropriate for all ages! It can be done with painterly precision or loosey-goosey fun, depending on how you roll.

A custom or personalized pillow would make a wonderful gift. Or. Give your kids or grandkids control of the paintbrush, and you have an instant treasured keepsake.

DIY Pillow Projects

Monogram Pillow
DIY Pillow with Border Flange
Envelope Pillow

Christmas Pillow Covers

Let’s begin!😃

Pillow Painting Materials

Below are the supplies you need to paint pillow covers. Affiliate links below in blue.

Pillow Covers HERE, HERE, HERE, or HERE  
Acrylic Paint HERE or HERE use with medium
Paint Medium HERE
or Fabric Paint HERE 
Paint Tray or Plate
Cardboard for stencil, optional
Iron HERE and HERE optional

The craft supplies are inexpensive and easy to find. Your most time-consuming decision may be which pillow covers to paint!

Fabrics that are suitable for painting include, cotton, cotton-polyester blends, linen, corduroy, and some synthetics to name a few.

Fortunately, I have found many that are of nice quality at fair prices. You can order right from Amazon and never leave your home. These 4 covers are highly rated and come in a variety of colors.  HERE, HERE, HERE, or HERE  

IKEA also has a variety of choices. Lastly, there are a variety of options at your local (or online) craft stores. I found mine at Hobby Lobby.


See below for step-by-step instructions to hand-paint a pillowcase or pillow cover.

Prepare your pillow cover, work area, & supplies

If you plan to wash your pillow covers in the future, it is a good idea to prewash them. I would not recommend machine drying after they are painted, but you could do it before you begin.

First off, prepare yourself by wearing old clothing. Set up your workspace. Protect surfaces and the floor with old table cloths, newspaper or tarp, etc.

Place a piece of cardboard inside the pillow cover and behind it so the paint does not bleed through.

Plan your Pillow Design and Colors

Cut your stencils out of cardboard with scissors or a Xacto knife. You can also use a pencil to lightly draw your design on the pillow cover.

Mix your acrylic paint with a fabric paint medium, following the directions on its package.

A medium is used to improve paint blending and workability on fabric. Read more about fabric mediums below. Or you can use fabric paint instead of an acrylic mixture.

Paint your Pillow Cover

Test your paint colors on fabric or paper first to get the consistency and color you want.

Paint your design. Use distilled water to thin your paint slightly if necessary.

When completed, move your painted pillow cover to a safe spot where no one will disturb it.

When to heat-set painted fabric

If you want to be able to wash your pillow cover in the future, you will want to heat set it after you are completely done with your painting process. (Do not heat-set after each paint layer.)

Important Wait for at least 24 hours after you have finished painting. This assures that your paint has fully dried.

How to heat-set painted fabric

To heat-set, your painted pillows, turn your pillow cover right side out. Place an old towel or cardboard inside the pillow cover.
Put a protective cloth over your ironing board or place an old folded-up towel down to protect your tabletop.

The paint requires dry heat for it to set. Do not use any of the steam settings on your iron. Turn off any auto steam settings and empty your water container. Use an iron set on medium-high and slowly press the backside of the painted areas.

DO NOT iron on TOP of the painted areas or you might damage the paint and your iron.

Oliso Mini Pink Iron HERE affiliate link

Iron one section of your design at a time. This allows you to focus on each part, and move quickly enough so that the painted areas get heat-set properly.

Continue to move your iron back and forth over the painted area for at least 3 to 5 minutes, pause after each minute goes by, and let the fabric cool down slightly, to avoid overheating the paint. This will prevent it from burning your paint or the pillow fabric. Be careful not to touch the fabric with your hands as it will be hot.
If your pillow cover is of a delicate fabric, lower the heat, but lengthen the pressing time.

Sunbeam Mini Blue Iron HERE affiliate link

If it is not possible, to iron from the back of the fabric, use a clean piece of fabric or an old white dish towel and place it over the painted part of your pillow so that you can iron from the front. This will prevent the paint from damage and/or melting onto your iron plate.

After you have finished heat setting your fabric, wait for at least 4 to 5 days before you wash it.

To Paint the American Flag Design (above)

1 Choose your Red, White and Blue paint colors. Paint the Blue Background rectangle. No need to aim for perfection!😁

2 Then using white paint dot in the stars.

3 Next, with a larger brush, paint the red stripes. Start at the top and work down.

4 Finish the stripes. Leave the rough edges to give a folk art look!

How to Wash Fabric That Has Been Painted

No surprise, if you take proper care of your pillow cover it will last longer. If you did not use a painting medium, do NOT wash the pillow cover. Instead, dab with a damp cloth to spot-treat.

If you did use a fabric paint medium, I would still recommend hand washing your pillow cover, then letting it air dry.

If you must machine wash, be sure to use a gentle cycle with cool water. To dry, simply air-dry, or use a low heat setting on your dryer.

Wash your pillow cover as little as possible to preserve the quality of the painting.

Also, plan to wait 4 to 5 days before you wash your pillow cover. This gives ample time for your paint layers to fully dry.

FAQs about Painting on Fabric

Below are common questions about painting fabric.

What kind of paint do you use on fabric?

For best results, use acrylic paint mixed with a fabric medium. OR You can also just use fabric paint alone.

Can you use acrylic paint on fabric?

Yes, you can! I would highly recommend using it WITH a textile medium though. You just mix the Fabric Medium with your acrylic paint.

What is the difference between fabric paint and acrylic paint?

Some acrylic paints are specially formulated to be used on fabrics. However, some acrylic paints are too thick for fabric and require a medium to thin them out.

What is Fabric Medium?

A fabric medium is a liquid that is mixed with acrylic paint. It thins it out and removes some of the thickening properties. It essentially transforms your acrylic paint into fabric paint.

Using a fabric medium will improve the blending, workability, and adhesion of acrylic colors when painting directly on your fabric. It will also reduce the stiffness that can occur when the paint dries.

Can you use acrylic paint on fabric without using a medium?

Yes, you can use acrylic paint on fabric without a medium. If you plan to display your pillows with little to no use, acrylic paint without a medium will be okay to use. But if you plan to actively use the pillows and wash them, it is best to use a fabric medium.

Also, it is highly recommended to use a fabric medium when painting wearable items, such as t-shirt or sweatshirts, etc.

Can I wash fabric that is painted with acrylic paint?

Yes. Acrylic paint will remain on the fabric permanently. BUT DO NOT USE WASHABLE ACRYLIC PAINT.

When you follow the correct procedure and heat dry acrylic paint, it will last a long time.

If you are concerned, contact the manufacturer or check their website to check if their brand is colorfast and machine washable.

Can I wash acrylic paint off?

You can try to remove acrylic paint by washing it if it has not dried. Although, it may stain the fabric. After approximately 30 minutes, when the paint is dry, it will be next to impossible to remove cleanly.

What is heat-setting fabric?

Heat-setting is used to make painted surfaces permanent. Heat is applied to the specific area of paint. This is done to ensure your painting does not wash, peel, or chip off.

To heat set, the paint, turn the fabric to the backside. Use an iron set on medium-high with no steam and slowly
iron the painted fabric.

Do you have to heat set fabric paint?

It is best to heat-set your fabric paint if you plan on washing the item you painted.

After your pillow cover is heat-set the painted design will be softer and more flexible. It also should hold up better when you need to spot clean or wash it.

Now you know how to paint throw pillows. Super easy and fun! There is no limit to the designs you could create.

Let me know if you try it.😃

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